Note: This interview was originally conducted in 2015.
There’s more to Baltimore than John Waters, heroin, and crabs.
Don Dohler is Baltimore’s hidden treasure. His movies aren’t as well known as Desperate Living or Pink Flamingos, but they’re just as important. For decades, the late filmmaker/fanzine publisher expanded the possibilities of homemade horror through his creativity, sincerity, and determination. Movies like The Alien Factor and Nightbeast inspired a generation of underground filmmakers to pick up a camera and create their own stop-motion monsteroid epics — including J.J. Abrams, who supplied some killer synthesizer bleeps in Nightbeast.
And then Blood Massacre happened.
Blood Massacre is Don Dohler’s preeminent triumph, a miracle of D.I.Y. inventiveness that was inspired by the gritty aesthetic of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. This movie looks like an expired Polaroid. It feels like a student film that was made by John Carpenter after an H.G. Lewis binge. It features a video store bloodbath, deranged synth-pop, and enough shocking twists ‘n’ turns to fill four movies. Blood Massacre is a nightmarish limbo where anything can happen, and often does, all in the name of guts-chomping fun.
Actor/Producer George Stover was an integral part of Don Dohler’s production team. An impossibly prolific actor who still works regularly today, Stover gave a career-defining performance in Blood Massacre as a lunatic killer named Rizzo. Mr. Stover — also know as one of the nicest people on the planet — was kind enough to chat with us about working with Don Dohler, the complicated production history of Blood Massacre, and driving home after a long day of work while soaked in blood.
BS: For the first decade of your career, you flip-flopped between appearing in movies for John Waters and Don Dohler. At the time, both were working with similar budget and resource constraints. How did working with John Waters compare with Don Dohler?
A: Working with John and Don were similar experiences in many ways. Both directors were professional, courteous, respectful, resourceful, and knew exactly what they wanted to capture on film. The main difference was in the subject matter. John only made comedies, while Don only made sci-fi and horror. Also, Don shot mostly on weekends when people with other jobs were available. John usually shot on sequential days.
BS: Dohler’s movies typically focused on light-hearted monster invasions. Blood Massacre had a darker mood that was more in line with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre than Fiend. What brought about the shift?
A: Don began his feature-film career making a science-fiction movie, The Alien Factor. Then he did a horror movie called Fiend, followed by two science-fiction movies, Nightbeast and The Galaxy Invader. He did not like including nudity, extreme violence, and gore. But he reluctantly acknowledged that audiences enjoyed seeing this type of thing so he included a nude scene and a very gory scene in Nightbeast. But if Don had been able to have his way, he would not have had those kind of scenes in his films. Don got some financing for Blood Massacre and I’m sure his backer wanted lots of gore and violence. Don was able to adapt and deliver the goods when he had to, even though his personal preferences were elsewhere.
BS: You play a bloodthirsty wildman named Rizzo in Blood Massacre. This was a departure from the lovable nice guys you typically played in Don Dohler’s movies. Was the role intended for you from the beginning, and did you prepare in a different way than usual?
A: The version of Blood Massacre that everyone is familiar with was shot on 16mm film. Before that, however, there was an uncompleted video version shot on 3/4” videotape. In that version, I played one of the gang members. A financial backer saw the videotape and was so impressed with it that he wanted to scrap the video version and start all over again with a version shot on motion picture film. The actor who played the leader of the gang was not available for the filmed version, so I was “promoted” to a larger role in his absence. It was great fun playing Rizzo, a character quite different than the meek types of characters I was used to portraying in the past. There wasn’t much time for preparation so I just winged it, and did the best I could in playing a psycho.
BS: You have some pretty intense scenes in this movie — the perverted sex, your bloody death, and the wielding of a homemade buzz saw weapon! Given the tone of the movie, how was the atmosphere on the set?
A: The atmosphere was surprisingly light, and a lot of fun. I think everyone involved had a nice time. The characters were kind of far out compared to people we encountered in real life, so I think everyone enjoyed playing characters who engaged in extreme types of behavior.
BS: Sounds like Blood Massacre had a challenging production history. Can you shed some light on what led to the eventual straight-to-video release in 1991 from 3 Star Releasing?
A: Well, after the 16mm film version was shot, Don got word that he had to deliver the film to the financier sooner than expected. As a result Don never got to fine tune the editing, and the result was not up to his expectations. To make a long story short, the financier got out of the film business and the movie was in limbo for about four years before it was finally released on videotape, but only in a version made from the work print because the original negative was damaged.
BS: Any particularly fun memories from working on Blood Massacre?
A: One memory that I have from that movie was not fun, but it was certainly memorable because of how uncomfortable it was. That scene of me hanging upside down at the end of the movie was very uncomfortable, and my comfort level wasn’t helped by being covered with so much fake blood. Also, we shot all night until dawn the next day. I was exhausted after we were done. There was no place to wash up and get the blood off of me, so I just drove home all bloodied up. I’m glad I wasn’t stopped by a policeman, because I would have had some explaining to do!